IT and ITES sector is not only one of the major drivers of the Indian economy but is also a sector which directly employs millions of working people. These working people are under severe attack in recent times with a very large number already thrown out and a huge number experiencing that threat. These working people are completely disempowered and even their fundamental rights and human rights are routinely violated. Lok Raj Sangathan feels that it is extremely important to assist them in their struggle in defense of their rights, and that is why it is actively doing so. As a part of this work Lok Raj Sangathan worked with the Forum for IT Employees (FITE) activists of Pune towards organizing meeting on 8th July ’17.
Sindhudurg Utkarsh Mandal Hall, located in Dange square of Pune witnessed a gathering of IT-ITES professionals which is a mile stone in the struggle of IT-ITES professionals for justice. Till then IT-ITES professionals had never openly gathered together and actively debated the way forward in their struggle. The meeting was organized on 8th July ’17 by the Forum for IT Employees (FITE) and the Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS) Maharashtra committee.
The meeting hall was overflowing with more than a hundred IT-ITES professionals. It was a mix of very young and quite old people, men and women, those who have already lost their jobs and those who are still employed, a large number from Pune and some who had come all the way from Mumbai. Excitement, expectation, self-doubt, weariness, anger - all emotions were writ large on the faces of various people at the beginning of the meeting. But as the meeting progressed, before they knew it, the whole atmosphere became charged and enthusiastic. And by the end of the meeting everyone was convinced that not only do all of them have a right to form a Union of their choice, but that unless they get organized as a Union they will not be able to withstand the onslaught which the IT-ITES companies have already begun across the country.
The meeting was organized on the backdrop of the fact that IT-ITES companies have started attacking the employees to safe guard their own profits. All big companies like Cognizant Technologies, Infosys, Wipro, Tech Mahindra, TCS, Vodafone, Airtel etc. and a huge number of medium and small IT-ITES companies are reportedly throwing out thousands of employees. Various reports also indicate that this spate of retrenchment is only going to get worse in the coming period. Retrenched employees say that a couple of years ago, even if they lost their jobs in IT-ITES Companies, they would easily be able to find other jobs, but now the situation is completely different. Since most of the IT companies are reportedly throwing out people, getting another job is almost impossible.
Before the meeting, mobilization was done by LRS and FITE activists by distributing thousands of pamphlets. Leaders of some important Unions located in Pune as well as many legal experts were also met. They readily declared their support. As a result of this work Dilip Pawar, President of Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sangathan (the Union of Bajaj Auto employees), Santosh Kanse, President of Sandvik India Union and of Shramik Ekta Mahasangh (a confederation of 130 Unions of Pimpri-Chinchwad industrial belt), Retired Justice B. G. Kolse Patil of the Mumbai High Court, and many other legal experts addressed the meeting.
The FITE representative of Pune, Mr. Elavarasan welcomed everyone and explained the background in which FITE was formed. He also explained the activities of FITE in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc. to help those IT-ITES professionals who have been attacked by their companies. He highlighted the urgent need of organizing.
Dr. Pradeep of LRS stressed that IT workers urgently need to organize in a Union. He exposed the false propaganda made by IT companies that IT-ITES employees cannot form a Union, by explaining that highly educated professionals like Aircraft engineers, Pilots, Engine drivers, Bank officers and employees, Doctors, Teachers etc. also form Unions and Associations and fight to defend their rights. He explained that the capitalist owners deliberately try to spread a false notion amongst many white collared employees including IT-ITES sector employees that they are not workers. But in reality all those who earn their salary by putting in their labour, whether physical or intellectual, are workers. He also called upon all the IT-ITES professionals to realize their own strength. He explained that prima facie the Companies appear invincible and we as individuals appear too weak. However the situation completely changes if we remain individuals no more by uniting! He explained that Indian IT-ITES professionals work with cutting edge technology which gives them a very special strength. By a united action they have a capability of bringing the entire world to a standstill! For instance even if half of IT-ITES employees decide to take a mass casual leave as a protest, the entire world would be affected! The need is to unite and get organized.
Justice Kolse Patil clarified that the weak never get justice, and that organizing into Unions gives strength to all working people. He also clarified that every citizen of India has a fundamental right to organize and be member of a Union or an Association of his or her choice and that nobody can deprive them from exercising this right.
Mr. Dilip Pawar and Mr. Santosh Kanase, the two Union leaders, shared their experiences of organizing uneducated as well as highly educated working people like Engineers in Pune-Chakan-Ranjangaon. “When Class 1 government officers can form a Union, how can you be deprived of a Union?” they asked. Both of them promised total active support of their organizations for the IT-ITES workers’ struggles.
Mr. Shrotri, a much respected Law expert and other lawyers then took questions from the audience. In reply they clarified following main points:
- There are enough existing laws to protect the rights of IT-ITES employees, but despite this, they will find it difficult to get justice unless they organize themselves into a union.
- If they can organize in a powerful unified Union it is possible to force the government to make new laws to protect their interests.
- When owners have their Associations and Unions where is the question of employees not having such a right?
- Any company having more than 100 employees has to take formal permission from the Government to retrench any employee.
- No company can dismiss any employee under any pretext without following procedures mentioned in law. This includes investigation by an enquiry committee wherein the employee concerned has a right to represent his or her case with the help of an external expert. This is valid even if the appointment letter has some different conditions of employment.
- Almost all the laws are applicable even to companies located in an SEZ.
- Citing the example of Tata Bluescope it was clarified that no company, even if it has gone bankrupt, can just throw out any employee.
- Almost all the labour laws are applicable to companies located in SEZ areas, even though the law enforcement authority may be different.
- The maximum number of hours an employee can be asked to work on overtime is also limited by law and payment for overtime has to be at double the normal rate.
Every legal expert emphasized that since companies know all the above facts very well, they try to put pressure on employees to resign on their own. Hence they further advised that employees should refuse to resign. If employees refuse to resign and ask the companies to terminate them instead, companies would back down. In response to this some participants narrated how they refused to “resign” on their own as a result of which the company had to step back.
All those who attended the meeting participated enthusiastically. More than 50 of them volunteered to work for formation of Union! Many also volunteered to organize similar meetings in Pune and Mumbai.
As a participant summarized, the meeting achieved the following main objectives:
The myth that IT-ITES professionals cannot unionize was smashed.
IT-ITES professionals are not scared to organize.
IT-ITES professionals are also wage earners and hence are workers, even though they may be highly educated or may be paid high salaries.
Every participant was more than convinced that forming a Union is an absolutely necessary condition without which it will be very difficult to withstand the onslaught.
All in all, the meeting is really an important mile stone in the struggle of IT-ITES workers.